Blake Shelton doesn’t just play an affable beauhunk on TV, as a co-host and “coach” on NBC’s The Voice. He also plays one on his hit country records, and by all accounts is one in real life. “Drink on It,” the current No. 1 on Billboard’s country chart, is a Shelton song par excellence: top-drawer beauhunk balladeering. It’s a loping, easygoing boudoir song—one long pick-up line, which Shelton pours out like a bottle of Jack Daniels into a tumbler. “You and I can just drink on it / Put our heads together and think on it / Maybe later on we can sleep on it,” Shelton sings over a mid-tempo shuffle. He’s the embodiment of a country archetype, the rowdy-but-hard-loving stand-up guy—a frat dude with a heart of gold. He can make an ode to getting a girl wasted sound like La Vita Nuova.
Shelton has gotten far on charm. He’s a mawkish performer, not one of Nashville’s naturals—yet he’s the biggest thing going in country music. (“Drink on It” is his sixth consecutive chart-topper.) His voice is burly and ingratiating but nothing special; as a singer, he’s interchangeable with any of a dozen other fixtures of country radio. He’s married to Miranda Lambert, the most electric country star of her generation. Next to her, his music sounds even slighter, his talents more modest.
Often, the strain shows. “She Wouldn’t Be Gone,” another No. 1 single, from 2008, is a great country-pop power-ballad, but Shelton blunders through it. You can hear the blood vessels bursting in his forehead through your speakers. He doesn’t have the voice, or the gravitas, to pull off the serious stuff.
But when the mood stays light, he’s great company. The highlights of Red River Blue, his current album, are the funny songs: “Hey,” which spins a series of witty variations on the homonyms hey and hay, and the whooping “Get Some,” a piece of cheeky Echt-Nashville philosophizin’. (“Everybody’s sayin’ / God almighty, it’s Friday / Everybody’s getting sideways / To have a little fun / Everybody’s livin’ / Everybody’s tryin’ / Everybody’s dyin’ / To get some.”) And of course, he excels at the sexy songs. If he put his mind to it, Shelton could be a new Conway Twitty, the great 1970s country seducer. But his sense of irony is too sharp—he’s amused by his own love-man act. In “Drink on It,” you can hear him smile inwardly as he tries to BS the girl into the sack. “We can talk rocket science, Jesus, or politics,” he sings. Sometimes, a deadpan joke and a sweet nothing can be one and the same.
Previously in Top of the Pops: